It is 5pm on a busy Friday night in downtown San Francisco and you have dinner reservations across the city in less than 20 minutes. Not a problem.
Opening the Lyft app on your phone, you find that a driver, Steve, is right around the corner and can give you a ride in his Camry. In the car, you receive notification that the Munchery order you placed for your favorite chef's organic mac and cheese is being delivered to the kids, who are at home with the babysitter you booked on UrbanSitter. With a few minutes to spare before dinner, you review piano teacher profiles on TakeLessons, since you're aspiring to unleash your inner Mozart next year. Just a typical Friday night.
What seems like an alignment of the stars is destined to become the norm in 2014 as peer-to-peer services become more commonly used. While electronic bulletin boards like Craigslist have been around for over a decade, they've remained one-dimensional, rather than an all-inclusive solution to a problem.
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Tech startups have seized the opportunity to reimagine Craigslist one industry at a time. Peer-to-peer marketplaces focused on solving a singular problem are being developed to create a personalized, social experience that matches supply to demand in the most frictionless manner possible. They're finding you the closest ride, the most delicious meal, and the best babysitter for your toddlers.
Trust: The cheapest marketing campaign yet
We are entering what will be known as the year of the trust economy. Marketplaces including AirBnb, Exec and DogVacay enable individuals offering services to become their own businesses. By integrating customer-driven rating systems with social networks, individual businesses can build their reputations and trust with customers.
Nobody wants to stay at any old motel anymore, they want to rent a secluded rain-forest treehouse in Costa Rica, where "my friend on Facebook" stayed and "they loved it." It has 67 ratings and they're all 5-stars. It's got a hot tub, too.
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Service providers should rejoice in the peer-to-peer marketplace phenomenon, which allows them to build a positive reputation and trust with customers without ever spending a dime on marketing.
Personalization, now comes standard
Companies like Amazon, Pandora and Flipboard laid the groundwork for customer personalization by leveraging the data of masses to customize an individual's experience and maximize their satisfaction. If you like this, you might like that.
All well and good if you're shopping for Bluetooth speakers, but when it comes to hiring people for services — specifically services within your home — things get really local and personal. If you like this, you might like that becomes because you live in this zip code, are friends with these three people on Facebook, and you are in a hurry … this is the provider for you.
Marketplace start-ups are working on perfecting the magic formula to find the right fit. By using objective data and subjective reviews, these marketplaces can pinpoint the best matches for a customer based on the full picture of must-haves, nice-to-haves, location, timeframe, marketplace track record, ratings and reviews, and social network recommendations.
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Personalization done well is seamless and makes your entire experience more efficient. Through personalization, 2,000 possible pet sitters for Fido are efficiently narrowed down to the five best fits for next weekend.
Cash-free and carefree
Through the magic of the internet, treehouse owner can meet treehouse renters, agree upon a stay, and exchange payment instantly. Next year, we'll see more of these transactions taking place on the go. In fact, Gartner predicts that the number of mobile-payment users worldwide will reach 245 million by the end of this year, up from 200 million in 2012. The same report estimates that mobile payment transaction values will reach more than $235 billion this year, marking a near 45 percent increase over 2011.
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More specifically, person-to-person (P2P) payment systems will make us all a little less cash-dependent. The number of people leveraging P2Ps (a la Square) to transfer funds from their bank accounts to those of friends and other individuals using mobile devices will continue to rise steadily. And, as people increasingly order their groceries from Whole Foods with Instacart; purchase their latte with the Starbucks mobile app and prepay for lunch at the taco truck with Gopago, 2014 will become the year mobile transactions go mainstream in the U.S. It'll be so convenient that you might just be willing to pay Uber's hefty 2.5x surging rate on a Saturday night instead of flagging a cab.
Could there be a day soon when all services and goods are purchased through marketplaces? Absolutely! If there's a problem to be solved, there's sure to be a marketplace that will emerge to fix it. This new brand of e-commerce will go mainstream in 2014, because who wouldn't want to make their lives easier, better, and more immediate than ever before?
— By Lynn Perkins
Lynn Perkins is the CEO of UrbanSitter, a service that connects parents with babysitters in the area. Follow UrbanSitter on Twitter @urbansitter.